American teen Keys looked up to Venus as toddler
MELBOURNE, Australia -- As a 4-year-old she watched Venus Williams playing on TV and fell in love with her dress.
So began the tennis career of Madison Keys.
"I really wanted a tennis dress," said Keys, now 17. "My parents told me that if I played, they would buy me one. I was like, `Hey, I'll try it."
Keys now has a closet full of tennis dresses and enough talent to have reached the third round at the Australian Open on Wednesday.
Ranked 105th and playing as a wild-card entry, Keys powered through the second round beating 30th-ranked Tamira Paszek 6-2, 6-1 in just 56 minutes -- drawing accolades from people who are now watching her play.
One of them was retired three-time Grand Slam winner and fellow American Lindsay Davenport, who thinks that Keys has "incredible potential."
"Best hope I've seen for U.S. since Williams," Davenport tweeted, not clarifying if she meant the 32-year-old Venus -- who owns seven Grand Slam titles -- or younger sister Serena who has 15.
Keys broke into a big smile and blushed when told of Davenport's appraisal.
"It makes me really happy," Keys said. "I've been working really hard. I think it's starting to show."
After her match, Keys was ushered into the main players' news conference room at Melbourne Park, which is usually reserved for top players or the people who beat them.
A bit awe-struck by the attention, Keys explained that her introduction to tennis was "complete luck."
Both her parents are lawyers and nobody in her family plays tennis, but she loved it from the moment she picked up a racket, she said.
"Every single day, my parents fed me balls. Eventually it turned into having a coach, and then it went to being at an academy," she said. "You know, it worked out pretty well."
Keys turned pro on her 14th birthday, Feb. 17, 2009, and made her debut at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where she became the seventh youngest player to win a main draw match and the youngest since Martina Hingis in 1994.
At 16 years old she played her first Grand Slam at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the youngest and -- at 455th -- the lowest-ranked woman in the draw. She made it the second round and then won a wild card into last year's Australian Open, where she lost in the first round.
This year's Australian Open is her third Grand Slam and her best result so far.
She faces a tough test in the third round against Wimbledon semifinalist and No. 5-seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, who beat Luci Hradecka in the second round 6-3, 6-1.
Unlike the jitters she felt at the U.S. Open, Keys said she feels more confident now.
"My first U.S. Open main draw, it was a big stadium and I wasn't really used to it," she said. "But I feel good about this one so far."
Her former idol, 32-year-old Venus Williams, had a good day, too, advancing to the third round after beating Alize Cornet of France 6-3, 6-3.
Asked what it feels like to have younger players look up to her, Venus laughed.
"I'm fighting the wrinkles and I'm fighting the battle of the bulge and everything," Williams responded. "I'm still slim and trim, thank you God."